Steamboat, plaintiffs, feds settle ADA lawsuit

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— A federal lawsuit that was brought by two local wheelchair users against the city last July and later joined by the U.S. Department of Justice, has been settled, said lawyers for the city.
Although lawyers for both sides were still refining the language in the settlement packages as of Tuesday afternoon and dealing with issues such as attorneys' fees, the bulk of the substantive issues in the case were resolved before Tuesday morning, said lawyers for the city.
In civil rights cases in which the plaintiffs prevail (settlements are considered a win for the plaintiffs), the defendants have to cover the plaintiffs' attorney's fees.
On Tuesday morning, attorneys Harold Jackson of the Department of Justice, David Brougham of Hall and Evans, which is representing the city, and Michael Breeskin of Fox and Robertson, representing the plaintiffs, participated in a conference call to update Michael Watanabe, a federal judge in Denver, on the status of the settlement talks.
The plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Richardson and Jonathan Steele, received cash damages in the amounts of $9,500 and $2,750, respectively, in addition to getting the city to improve the accessibility of the disabled to certain facilities, City Attorney Tony Lettunich said.
Among what Brougham described as "about 22 different little items" asked for by the plaintiffs include increased disabled accessibility at public arenas, such as Howelsen Hill and Romick Arena. Those improvements would focus on facilities such as restrooms and seating for the disabled.
The city also agreed to make improvements to things such as bus shelters, to which disabled residents are sometimes blocked.
"Money isn't what I was after," Steele said. "I wanted access to the city's facilities without being discriminated against."
The Department of Justice, in writing up a "consent decree," which is like a settlement package, was concerned primarily with the city's attempts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to its free bus system.
The city has agreed to bring its entire bus fleet into ADA compliance by August 2002, Lettunich said. The city also agreed to lease two accessible mini-buses, which are already provided for in the city budget, for this winter season. Half of the city's 22 vehicles are wheelchair accessible currently. The settlement is also contingent on the city continuing to train bus drivers to handle wheelchairs and disabled patrons and be sensitive to these issues.
Lettunich is optimistic the city will have a full fleet of wheelchair-accessible buses by the date set by the federal government. Much of this optimism is due to a recent $1 million grant the city received from the Federal Transit Authority.
Richardson and Steele claimed in their suit filed in July 1999 that they were denied service on Steamboat Springs transportation due primarily to the lack of wheelchair lifts on a number of used buses purchased by the city. Richardson said he had been forced to sit out in the freezing cold for as long as an hour before getting picked up by a bus.
Breeskin, he plaintiffs' attorney, was unable to comment on what he believes are ongoing settlement talks.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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